What are the responsibilities of church members? In an individualistic and consumeristic culture, the very notion that there are significant responsibilities for church members comes as a surprise to some Christians.
I can still remember my excitement at seeing my name on the final basketball roster. I made the cut. High school basketball tryouts were over, the team was set, and my name was on the list. I got the shoes, the jersey, and a locker in the team locker room.
Now the real work was about to begin: conditioning, practices, travel, more conditioning, games, summer camps—and did I mention conditioning? These responsibilities defined my role as a team member. Without accepting them, my place on the team would have been insignificant; indeed it would have been non-existent.
Responsibility and church membership go hand-in-hand—you simply can’t have one without the other. In fact, wherever you have a defined group of people, those people necessarily incur responsibility simply by belonging to the group. You’re not a member of the Tuesday night bowling league if you don’t take responsibility to show up on Tuesday nights to bowl. Even more so, if you join a church, you have responsibilities.
So what are the responsibilities of church members?
How we answer that question depends on how we first define the local church. A local church is not a building or a place. A church is a people. More specifically a local church is born-again, Spirit-filled people who gather regularly in the name of the Lord Jesus and under the authority of God’s Word to profess the true gospel and affirm each other’s citizenship in the kingdom of God by the ordinances. That definition is a bit of a mouthful. But it shows us two important things about the church and its membership: the church has a unique identity and the church has a unique authority.
The church is made up of regenerate, Spirit-filled people. They have a new identity. No longer spiritually dead, they’ve been made alive in Christ. They are a new creation, forgiven of their sins, and adopted as God’s sons (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:7, 13, 22; Romans 8:15). All church members bear a responsibility to become who they already are in Christ by walking in a manner worthy of the gospel (Ephesians 4:1). Being leads to doing. Or in other words, New Testament imperatives flow from gospel indicatives.
God has also entrusted these local assemblies with authority to render decisions on earth on behalf of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:18). Local churches are embassies of God’s kingdom. Through baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and discipline, a local church wields the authority to affirm or denounce someone’s citizenship in God’s kingdom. This responsibility falls to the members of the church, not just its leadership.
SIX RESPONSIBILITIES OF CHURCH MEMBERS
In light of the church’s identity and authority, how do we define the responsibilities of church members? These six points summarize the Bible’s teaching on the responsibilities of church members.
If church members don’t assemble, then there’s no church. In other words, gathering together in the name of the Lord Jesus is part of what makes a church a church. The author of Hebrews commanded his readers not to forsake assembling together (Hebrews 10:25). Every church member should prioritize Lord’s day worship with the people of God.
Of course, members may need to assemble for other reasons. If a church designates member’s meetings as the context for budget approvals, receiving new members, handling discipline cases, and clarifying doctrinal positions, then church members have a responsibility to gather at those meetings as well.
Protect the Gospel
Ensuring fidelity to the gospel isn’t the responsibility of pastors alone. Every church member is responsible to uphold and affirm the gospel. When the apostle Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, he chastised the churches, not the elders, for turning to a “different gospel” (Galatians 1:2-6). He held the congregation accountable for allowing error to creep in and distort the gospel (Galatians 1:7). Granted, not every member can master the intricacies of systematic theology, but every member should be able to articulate and defend the substance of the gospel. The apostles assumed that every believer would mature in Christ, enabling them to discern true and false doctrine (Ephesians 4:13-14; Philippians 1:9-10; 1 John 4:1-6).
At a practical level, protecting the gospel means that church members should know and understand their church’s statement of faith. Every church member is responsible to ensure that the teaching of his or her church is in accord with the church’s confession. Church members that embrace this responsibility will view their private Bible study as more than an act of personal devotion and edification. It will also have an ecclesiological impulse: “I study the Bible to help the whole church maintain doctrinal fidelity.” When every member accepts the responsibility to protect the gospel, the whole church benefits. Together, they mature in the truth and build themselves up in the knowledge of the Son of God (Ephesians 4:13).